What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate


Last Autumn Dartford Council spent weeks informing the residents that the workmen were due soon to re-surface our road (Swaisland Road, DA1 – if anyone down there’s taking notes). We were all very excited— If you live in Dartford there’s very little to get excited about.  So when a gang of diminutive, old suit-wearing Boys from the Black Stuff arrived we were indeed thankful for small murphys.

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NOT the men from Dartford Council.

I wish now that I’d taken a photo to prove to my neighbours that the men actually came, because few believe me that anything happened at all. The road is roughly (and getting rougher by the minute) 400 yards long yet my tichy tarmac-toiling troops curtailed their asphalt-laying activities immediately outside my house — having completed a whopping great 47.32 yards. The remaining 352.68 yards of potholes, dog turds and more potholes were left to fend for themselves.

Cool Hand Luke it ain’t. It isn’t even Yosser Hughes.

So todays quiz is simply this:  In this snap taken by my own hand this very afternoon, see if you can spot where the new surface stops, and where the old one begins. A Greggs Iced Finger to the clever reader who spots the council’s deliberate mistake, Mike’s two fingers to Dartford Council.

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Those of you who haven’t paid their Council Tax please move to the right please.

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The Cross-Eyed Conspirator


It’s been a long time coming, but thanks to a couple of decent orders, I have managed to gather enough cash together to take the Incumbent and myself away for a while. Very soon the beaches of southern Italy will be awash with bits of me. It’s been a few years and several stone since I Swarfega‘d my way into a pair of swimming trunks. It’s the kind of thing that could bring down the EU.

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So with just a day to go before we jet off, and thanks to the guvnor, most of our stuff has been packed away and we’re busy clearing the fridge of perishables. Today I anticipate having three fried egg sandwiches and two omelets as someone seems to have over-ordered on the egg front. With all of our nicer clothes and accessories neatly put away in suitcases, we’re wandering around the house in old or inappropriate garb. Yesterday, for example, I spent the day in a dinner jacket (which was handy because I was hungry). The Incumbent wore a morning suit so she could have the afternoon off.

Last night, while the other half took herself down to Bluewater, I took the opportunity to steal myself away down to the local for a last pint before I was pushed on to an aircraft. For the occasion I dug out from the bottom of the chest of drawers a pair of rather ill-fitting shorts (for brevity’s sake, let’s just agree that all my clothes are ill-fitting) and an early example of my ever-popular JFK T-shirt. (50 years On — available at all good stockists).

Taking a seat on a bar stool, I ordered from Glenda the usual pint of sludge and began the usual banter with the assembled old boys propping up the jump.

“Aye , Aye”, “Evening All” etc

“Working on one for you, John” I hollered at one of the gathered drinkers. He was sat on the next stool to me but I needed to shout as he was a tad mutton. John had asked if I could make a Laurel & Hardy tee for him and I was on the case. The 70 year old plasterer is rapidly becoming one of my more regular customers, him having a penchant for often wearing one my shirts while both plastering and getting plastered. I think he’s ordered four to date. And he’s paid for all of them, something of a record round here.

“Is it you that makes the T-shirts, then?” asked Colin, sat beside the aforementioned John.

“Yes, that’s me” quoth I.

Colin took a long squint at what I was wearing. JFK stared back at him through the folds in my shirt and the creases underneath my moobs. You can always tell how long Colin’s ben in the the pub by the degree at which his eyes are pointing at each other. Colin is the Ben Turpin of Dartford — especially after half a dozen pints.

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“Oooh I like that one” he continued. “that one of yours ?”

“Yup. In all of the colours, in all of the sizes !” I chanted happily. But answer came there none. And this was scarcely odd because it was Colin and he was on a roll.

“That’s the….the…the American President fella, aint it ?”. I’d forgotten to mention that Colin was a bit of a political animal.

“Yes, John Kennedy”, I concurred. “It’s fifty years this year that he died. You can have it in…”

I’d failed to notice that Colin hadn’t finished.

“You ought to do one with him on it, and Martin Luther King here, John Lennon here…” he was pointing to various part of his torso “…and Lady Diana there…” which apparently was somewhere around his navel.

“Diana ..?” I repeated, but it was still Colin’s turn.

“Then write ‘Assassinated’ above ’em” he announced, scrawling the imaginary headline across the top of his chest. “I’d buy one of them

“Diana..?” I repeated.

“Yeah, well, everyone knows she was killed by them.” Behind him, I noticed John roll his eyes, snort and bury is face into his pint.

“Them..?” I asked — desperately trying not to give the impression I was doubting him (a sale is, after all, a sale).

“The Government ! She slagged off the Tories on TV and I says to me mum ‘she’ll be dead in a fortnight’ and the following weekend me mum rings me up and says ‘she’s dead’ and I says ‘who’s dead’ and she says ‘Diana’s dead’ and I says ‘well fuck me I was right all along’ “.

Colin was no David Frost, but he knew a good yarn when he told one. I was loath to point out that Tony Blair was in government when Diana died was murdered.

“That’s a good point” I replied.(I’ll say anything to sell a shirt.) “I’ll have a good go at that when I get back from my holiday” I lied.

As if to confirm it to himself, Colin repeated his design to himself (and to me) several times, occasionally adding “you can put their dates below each face” and suggesting colours for the shirt.

And then he started free-forming.

“You know who they’ll get next, don’t you ?” he bellowed.

“Er….”  I dreaded to think who was next in line for Colin’s assassin’s bullet.

“Jamie Oliver !”

Two jets of Light & Bitter shot out of John’s nostrils. I bit a lump out of my tongue. In the nick of time The Incumbent arrived to rescue me. She picked me up off the floor and we made ready to leave. Colin was still in full flight, detailing what Jamie had done to incite the wrath of MI5, though my head was spinning and I couldn’t hear what his reasoning was. I should have asked why Jamie was for the chop, not Delia Smith, but we’d gone before I’d thought of it.

As we left Glenda was administering the last rights to John who had laughed himself to within an inch of an early death.

It seems I’ll have no need to finish that Stan & Ollie shirt.

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Who Do You think You’re Kidding?


Things are definitely changing around here, and some of them not for the best.

I took off this morning on another one of what my doctor, Mr Lansley, calls “life-extending promenades” this morning. I know he means well but I’m not sure Dr Lansley understands just how far “a half hour’s walk” is. Or, come to that, if he understands anything at all about my health. Anyway, the novelty of the yomp to the post office is wearing off already so today I decide to turn the other way into the village itself. This way is a little more interesting as I pass by or through all the hustle and bustle which country life can offer.

I therefore reach the top of the lane and turn left this time, past the school with its newly installed metal detector and courtesy black maria which the children seem to find very interesting indeed. I stand to watch several of them playing a game of Hopscotch (or HopCaledonian as they are told to call it nowadays) through and around the metal detector. I started to reminisce about my time at the school and all the lovely knife-free years I enjoyed there, before I am awakened from my daydream and shooed away by a man pointing a Taser and wearing a flak jacket in school colours. I am a mixture of embarrassed and annoyed, but in any case shuffle off in the direction of the newsagent’s and the football fields beyond.

I no longer use this newsagent. I spent years gleaning from it all the info about the outside world I could. It was a lovely sight. A lovely big sign outside reading “The Village News” above the window was flanked by smaller ones of a bygone day: The News Of the World, News Shopper and even Horse&Hound were all represented in enamel signs down the sides of the shop. Proudly and efficiently run by old Mr Turnbull and his younger wife Susanna, it was a constant source of news, gossip and entertainment.

Sadly, as in everything nowadays, the shop has had a makeover, renamed itself “T’News of T’Village” and is daubed with posters for the Yorkshire Post, Salford Sentinel, and Whippet Magazine. The shop window has been widened, the counter brought closer to the door, and there’s even a space in the background for customers to enjoy a cappuccino or a flat white, run by the serial liar Mrs Kirkwood. (Amazing they haven’t pensioned her off yet.) The company has brought in a whole new staff to help out old Bill. I went in there one Sunday afternoon and found Jack Duckworth and Seth Armstrong serving. I had not a clue what they were on about and left sharply, never to return.

Mr Turnbull takes to the streets to sell the riveting Tameside Express

For your information I now pop along to Mr Humphrys who runs the paper stand on the corner. He doesn’t carry any of the tabloids or the magazines, and is only interested in the broadsheets, but at least I can understand what he’s talking about. And he and his friend Mr Naughtie (“Naughty Naughtie”, my mum calls him) do have a laugh when one of them accidentally mispronounces Mr Jeremy Hunt‘s name.  The only alternative place to get my news from is Holmes’– the convenience store in the high street. But I fear that if the manager, Eamonn, doesn’t stop tucking into the pasties (“well, no-one else is buying them any more”) they’ll be no room for anyone to get into the shop to buy anything. Fat eejit, so ye are.

As I passed them, Old Bill had young Charlie helping him pile up sandbags outside the door of the shop. They looked very sad. Mrs Kirkwood had her sunglasses on, so I knew it was about to rain. I put up my brolly, upped the pace to a stroll and continued up the path.

The school football pitches lay silent, save for the rustling of Ginsters Dwarf packets being blown about in the goal netting, and old Mr Fry, the omnipresent caretaker re-marking out the lines with his trusty, squeaky wheely machine. I’m sure that’s not what it’s called and that Mr Fry would take the time to tell me, at length, what its real name is, but I intentionally don’t catch his eye. I’m getting bored of him telling me everything about everything. It seems like he’s everywhere I go. And he keeps asking me to follow him. It’s creepy, I reckon. Why he doesn’t find himself a nice wife I’ll never know.

A small boy is told that Mr Moon is unable to play at the village concert.

Much excitement was to be had, apparently, up at these pitches at the weekend as two of the immigrant boys did frightfully well in their respective soccer matches. Young Fernando scored three goals. IN ONE MATCH. Putting to bed the fear had by his new PE master, Signor Baldio, that the boy needed to be fitted with calipers to sort his legs and feet out.

Over on another pitch, little Adolf Suarez also scored three times, even though parents were assured at christmas that he was to be expelled for calling some of the other boys “Schwartzers”.  His coach, Mr Kenneth Gorbals (pronounced Goebbels), sadly now blind in both eyes, did offer something by way of excuse, but no-one understood him. And on Pitch 3 John the School Bully amazed everyone by staying on the pitch for the whole of the match, and without abusing or maiming anyone. He got rather excited when he scored a goal, but his dad rushed on to the field of play and administered some pills, which he’d secreted in a little baggie down his sock. After the match ‘Bully’ was seen talking to the nurse, Mrs Bridge who seemed to be backing in to him. A lot.

It’s sad to think that in a matter of weeks the pitches and the ancient trees that surround them will be dug up and tarmacked over for use as an Olympic car park. Oh well, we all have to do our bit, I suppose. What’s hundreds of years of history and a few old Oaks when compared to ensuring the success of a corporate carve-up sports tournament ?

The Terry family takes on the Suarezes in a friendly kick about on Sunday morning.

The school’s newly-appointed Temporary Chief Coach, Mr W.O.T. Wovers (Cantab) said that he was “wery happy with all the boys he’d seen in twaining” and that he was confident in their ability to do well in the tournament this summer “especially against fwance and the Ukwaine”.

On the far side of the football pitches I could see the SBS training in the village pond. Their activity was only hampered by having to steer their boats around the Astute-class nuclear submarine which the Royal Navy have parked, sorry moored in our pond, much to the annoyance of both the ducks and the local flasher.  Sadly, since the local ARP warden, Mr Johnson, announced that our village was a prime Al Qaeda target this summer, the whole place has been a hive of activity, with varying degrees of success and popularity.

The site for the gun emplacement – originally destined to be on top of the Conservative Club – has been moved (thank the Lord) and will stand proudly, perched on top of the ICU building at the local Hospital. Mr Johnson tells us that, not only will this deter the “Mad Raghead Mullahs” from bombing our NHS hospital, but it will ensure the general security and safety of all those waiting hours in corridors to be seen by the woefully short-handed staff”. I can certainly see that no right-minded burglar would want to break into the hospital now.

A crack team of nurses abandon their posts at the gun emplacement as they
remember they’ve left an elderly patient alone with young Dr Shipman

As I turned for home, I paused for a moment and removed my cap as a funeral cortege passed by. They were burying old Mrs Blears who died suddenly and horribly in a freak razor-wire accident. She was wrapping the aforementioned wire around her chimney in an effort to dissuade the Taliban from mounting an attack on her home, when she slipped and fell through the wire to the ground. Only the wire catching her across the neck and in her mop of lovely ginger hair saved her fall. Sadly she died from the injuries sustained. Had she been rescued in time she may have lived. Apparently she hung there for four weeks before anyone noticed she’d gone. One neighbour said “I’m so relieved she’s dead: I thought I’d gone deaf”. Another was quoted as saying “Let’s just remember what she did for us and for herself and enjoy the peace and silence now she’s gone”.

I buy my paper from Mr Humphry’s I see that they’ve decided to allow drug users to represent the village in the summer sports day. That’s good. It’ll give School Bully something to do in the closed season. I did see his dad and Mr Chambers having a good old chin-wag earlier (which is strange, given Mr Chambers’ colour), but I’m sure whatever was said could be easily taken out of context.

Ok, gotta go now. Have to buy one of Mr Coe’s lottery tickets for a place in the Air Raid shelter. S’funny, I always thought there’d be a place for all of us in the shelter when the time finally came, given all the taxes we’ve paid over the years and how long we’ve lived here. Not to mention that many of us had to move out of home to allow Mr Coe to build that big bunker of his. But apparently some seats have to be reserved for special friends of Mr Coe, and their friends and their families. Which is only right, I suppose.

And Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now


I think it was Nana Mouskouri who said something like “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean the fuckers aren’t out to get you”. It’s a mantra I pretty much live my life by. Yes, I’m fully aware I am paranoid (it comes with the communist dad and the Che Guevara posters) but I also know in my heart of hearts that they are out to get me. And they’re winning.

I  woke up this morning to the news that The Halifax Building Society is to announce a rise in interest rates, pushing up the cost of mortgages for those with variable mortgages. Have a guess who I have a mortgage with ? Yes, that’s right – The Woolwich. No, not really – The Halifax Building Society. And, in the words of Jimmy Cricket, “C’mere, there’s more”:

I’ve been on a fixed-rate deal with The Halifax for several years now, getting stuffed by playing it safe with a 5% deal when the interest rates plunged. But I always kidded myself, using that phrase all us fixed-rate bods use “I always know what’s coming out of my account every month” (e.g. just about everything). My deal finished in February. I “clinched” a new, variable rate deal last week. The letter of confirmation came through yesterday.

And tomorrow they’re putting the rate up.

If you don’t think that’s bad luck, bad timing or even sinister you might like to bear in mind I have to pay something like 3 points above the normal cos I rent my house (you’ll remember Railway Cuttings) while I skulk in the potting shed, down here in the countryside. I do this, not because I’m a property developer, but because I haven’t had a job in close to 2 years. and the rent from my house is my salary. The Halifax won’t let you just rent out your house. You have to declare it and take our a landlord’s mortgage, a “Consent to Lease Agreement”. When I came to move out and rent out, I decided to play it fair and above-board and tell the Halifax. It is much more expensive than a regular mortgage they told me. Much more. I wasn’t happy.

“You do know, don’t you” I inquired of them “that I’m the only bloke I know who actually declares that they’re renting out their house? That I’m being punished for being honest ?” This fell on deaf eyes. Even as I was telling them, I imagined limos full of Halifax Henchmen descending on me to force me to spit out the names of these others who were not declaring their lease.

When my 4 year old fixed-rate ended (you can imagine what I paid on a deal taken out in pre-crash 2007), because of the higher payments demanded of an obvious property magnate like me, my monthly payment actually went up. (There’s a longer version to this story where I was informed by Dartford Branch that my payments would go down but apparentlywhoevertoldmethatwasmisinformedandyourpaymentswillactuallybegoingupMrBealingandwe’resorry-youweregiventhewronginformationandhere’s70quidtosaysorryeventhoughwedontadmittoanywrongdoingonourpart)

But we won’t go there. Cos I get angry about it.

SEVENTY QUID !!!

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So the small salary I get from my house lets me stretch to about a couple of packets of biscuits and a pint of milk each month. From tomorrow I’ll be deficient in the Bourbon department to the tune of one.

The author and one of his his little "runarounds".

Petrol has hit a new high too. Unleaded (I’m told, cos I never bother looking at the pumps any more) is now 137p or more per litre. It now costs nearly £80 to fill up The Incumbent’s motor. So we don’t bother any more. The 17yr old of the house has just passed his driving test too, so from 3 weeks ago were filling 2 motors. (and before you start, tree-huggers: Fuck Off.)

In an effort to boost (Ha!, boost) the sales of T-shirts from our fledgling Generic Logo Company, I have spent 3 weeks (yes honestly) on the phone and email trying to set up credit card payments. I’ve been regularly on to the host website called, I kid you not Mr Site, who are in Delhi or Mumbai or similar. I have also been on to some mob called Cardinal Commerce who are part of the Mastercard verification process and are in Ohio, USA. And I have been talking at length to Paypal, who are in Dublin. Whatever is supposed to be happening isn’t. Paypal blame Cardinal, blame Mr Site. I DON’T CARE. It’s probably me who has input something wrong. I JUST WANT IT WORKING. I have asked them all to pretend this is the first time I’ve ever set up a credit card verification arrangement across 3 continents and 13 time zones, and to pretend that this is what they do every day. No-one seemed to get my inference.

So we’re back to where we started and until these three titans of the business world get their collective arse in gear, T-shirts can only be bought if you have a Paypal account. I know this will come as a blow to most of you who had just fished-out your VISA or Mastercard from your handbags and were about to buy a rude tee from us, but you’ll need a Palpal account now. I know, it’s gutting.

But I’m not holding my breath. The contract on that pad in Cap Ferrat remains unsigned until the “business” actually sells anything.

So, in short, I’m skint (all of my spare cash having been invested in unsold t-shirts); petrol is at a record high and I need twice as much of it as I did before; and my mortgage costs 100 quid-a-month more than it did before Christmas.

But through all this I am considering voting Tory. Or LibDem. Or both, if I can.

I know.

Why? Well, it’s simple. Someone called Johnny Marr says he and the Smiths (and one can only presume this includes the Morrissey) will reform if the coalition steps down. According to the Guardian:

Johnny Marr has offered to reform the Smiths, on just one tiny condition: David Cameron‘s coalition government steps down. “How’s that?” he quipped at the NME awards. “I think the country’d be better off, don’t you?”

Now if that isn’t a good enough reason to support David Cameron, Gideon Osborn, Toady Clegg and this wonderful government’s fiscal policies, I don’t know what is.

Our Frank


Photo and half time oranges courtesy of Mr Terry Kirk

You’ll notice a couple of things about the above photo. Firstly, how the young man on the far left of the front row has hardly changed at all over the past 25 years since the snap was taken of the Dartfordians 1st XV 1985/86. The young then-winger went onto become one of east Bexley’s least talked about centers, one of the country’s slowest fast bowlers and writer of mumbling and bumbling slightly-left-of-centre blogs, part-time t-shirt maker and scaffolder’s knee-wrencher.

You’ll also notice the rather imposing figure, third in from the left of the back row of Frank Wallen. Man-mountain, father, brother (in all senses of the word), all-in wrestler, civil servant and tickler of the ivories (he played all the right notes in the right order). Frank died last night, they tell me, apparently of a heart attack. He will be sorely, sorely missed.

Frank was my vice captain when for some reason I was asked to captain the 1st XV. It was a long time ago, but the memories of my disastrous and lacklustre attempts to skipper that side still keep awake at night those poor sods who were there to witness it.

Not that Frank need have taken any of the blame for our appalling form (and I’d like to meet the bloke who’d have blamed him.) While my alcohol or apathy-related injuries prevented me from attending midweek training, Frank would be there, with the other 7 attendees, running around the dark and wet field, scaring and scragging people as he went. He did all this without a moan, without once having a go at me for not being there/being in the pub/staying at work/being in the pub (delete where applicable). Good job too: I’d have shit myself if he’d had done so.

Off the pitch he was as gentle a man you could ever wish to meet. Quiet, with a magnificent sense of humour and smile to match, he would sit at the bar, pipe on the go, nodding and giggling along with whatever story was being rolled out again for the umpteenth time. He was terrific company and seemed amiable and happy all the time.

On the pitch was a slightly different story. My mate Keith – no mean player himself – recounts the day as a 19 year old he took his place in the side as hooker, alongside Frank in the scrummage (Frank would have been around 30 by then already). The match was against local rivals Gravesend, and at each and every scrum, Frank’s opposite number would take the opportunity to call Frank a “black cvnt” every time their heads came close. What this bloke was going to do to Our Frank during and after the match was no-one’s business and anyone’s guess. Sadly for the Gravesend player (let’s call him Terry), the end of the game came sooner than expected. For him, at least.

As Keith jogged across to a lineout, he saw Terry, hands on his knees, bent over grabbing huge lungfuls of air between plays. Then something odd happened. Nothing is certain, but it seems Terry must have slipped because, all of a sudden, his chin came into violent connection with a freshly-arrived knee (the colour of which has never been proven). Terry exited the pitch quickly, chin-first, eyes shut, at a 30 degree angle and four feet above the ground, until he landed on the cricket square between pitches (somewhere around backward short leg). Frank looked around innocently. Keith threw up.

Everyone on the circuit knew Frank. He sorta stood-out. It wasn’t just that he was one of the few black prop-forwards around (we down the Rugby Club also enjoyed the playing company of his younger, bigger brother Brian), he was also as strong as one man could possibly be. I mean scary-strong.

Perhaps it was this strength that lent itself so readily to Frank’s other sporting passion: All-In Wrestling. These were the days well before WWF or Wrestlemania or whatever. Men in ill-fitting cotton and spandex outfits, pretending to jump up and down on other men, similarly attired. It must have been so hard for Frank to “pretend”.

But he didn’t fight as Frank Wallen. No, no, nothing as drab as that. When our Big Frank entered the ring he became none other than “Soul Brother Butcher” Dave Bond. It just rolled off the tongue in a way his opponents rolled off the canvass. Of this world of fixed bouts, of goodie and baddies, and little old women screaming at someone to “rip ‘is bloomin’ ‘ead orf”, Frank would tell you that he never competed as a goody. “Apart from in Brixton” he would add with smile.

After a rugby match, if you were particularly lucky, Frank and his big mate John Harrison (another big unit) would sit either end of a piano keyboard and treat you to some honky-tonk.  If you were really really lucky you’d have been in a public bar when this mate John pretended to square up to Frank, having the effect of terrifying the barman due to the imminent prospect of a huge punch-up between two enormous men. As the poor innkeeper, fearful of the pub’s decor, nervously shouted “I’ll call the police”, both Frank and John would cuddle the poor guy, Frank in fits of laughter as John (a member of Her Majesty’s Met Police) would tell him “they’re already here, mate”.

But more often than not, you’d find Frank sitting at the bar, supping on his pint and pipe, smiling and listening to all around him, chatting about the game that afternoon. He knew he was a little different, that he cut an impressive dash, an imposing figure. But all Frank wanted to do was to enjoy life, a game and a pint.

As I left the clubhouse one night, he got me into a headlock to tell me a joke (it’s what he did).
“Hey, Bomber, why do white girls go out with black blokes ?”
Dreadfully nervous of putting my foot in it I replied lamely “er…I dunno, Frank”
“To get their handbags back” he cracked. Huge grin across his face, giggling to himself like a schoolboy.

“Now Frank, you’d have killed anyone here if they’d have told you that” I suggested.
“Yep, but they never would, Mike.” he grinned “They never would”.

Handlebar’s Water Music


(The story so far: Mike has had a stroke at the tender age of 48, and many tests ensue)

I’d had enough of this falling over shit. My Doctor had had enough of me moaning about this “I’m dizzy” bollocks. It was time for my MRI scan. What was going on up there in that alleged brain of mine ? Why did my head keep exploding, which resulted in me sitting on my arse, blinded by the light, revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night.

I washed and shaved early, trying out the Honda handlebar moustache for the for the first time. Shoehorned my ample frame into one of the few pair of trousers which I both own and still fit me. Thank Allah that my appointment came when it did – any later and they may have had to grease me up to slide me into that scanner.

The literature which the hospital had sent along with the appointment told me to leave all metal bits n pieces behind. Phones, watches, keys, belt buckles (haven’t needed one of those for a while) plates in my head and piercings in my nipples, none of these would be allowed within a UNISON picket line of the MRI scanner.

When the day came, we (I was ably accompanied by The Incumbent) arrived at the hospital, took advantage of the Costa Coffee in the foyer, then headed off for the MRI dept. We entered, gave my name and, virtually free of metallic objects, sat in the waiting room. The silence was broken after just a few minutes.

“Mr Bealing?”
“Er…yes, here” I even put my hand up like a boy at the back of the class.
The nurse looked me up and down. “Those trousers got a metal button?”
“Er, yes. yes I think they have” I replied (well after all, I had paid over fifteen quid for them at Sainsbury’s. No rubbish here, mate).
“Well they’ll have to come off. You can’t wear them in the scanner. Come with me you can change in there [points to room up the corridor], then you can come back, give your trousers to your wife (sic) and wait to be called.”

I went white. A cold sweat came over me. Although I was still able, unaided, to have put my Sainsbury’s trousers on, wearing underpants underneath them had become a bit of a luxury. My burgeoning waistline and arseline leave no room for boxer shorts. Jockeys or Y-fronts are a distant memory and so I had arrived at my local hospital a la Commando. Sans trolleys. Born Free. Without knickers.

The thought of the nurse handing me a gown to get into and me having to walk back to the waiting room with my bare arse hanging out for my fellow patients’ entertainment and enjoyment filled me with fear and dread. I shared my fears with The Incumbent who nearly imploded with laughter. I wasn’t laughing.

I followed the nurse to the changing room and was relieved to see a pair of sky blue cotton drawstring trousers hanging there. They were huge, fortunately, and I managed to slide into them. Indeed so big were they that the drawstring didn’t pull tight enough to hold them up. I had to clench wads of material with one hand, and keep my thighs and buttocks together to ensure they stayed up at a decent level, sparing my blushes.

I rolled up my own, now discarded strides under my arm and left the room to return to the missus in the waiting area. On the way I noticed a handily-placed WC and thought this would be a good opportunity to get rid of the tepid Primo Latte which Costa had provided me with earlier. I was due to be in the scanner for 90 minutes and I didn’t want to be caught short while I was in there. In my half-clenched, bent-over state I shuffled my way over to have a pee, carefully ensuring my arse didn’t take a peek out the back of my slacks.

There is a type of cotton (cheap chinos are made of it) which, no matter how hard, how vigorous or how many times you shake your willy after urinating, will soak up every little speck, each and every drop of pee it can and show the evidence of this so-called “willy drip” to one and all in the form of a huge dark patch around your goolie region.

I have to tell you now that these hospital trousers were made of this very same material. And I wasn’t wearing pants.

There is nothing one can do about it. 2 tiny drips had hit the cotton and were now joined together and were spreading, leaving a dark blue patch the size of a CD in the general area of my penis. Can you imagine how mortified I was ? I left the loo. Picture the scene of me, hunched up, buttocks and knees together, one hand holding the flystring of my newly-acquired blue leg ware, the other holding a perfectly good pair of Sainsburys drills in front of a big blotch of wee. With my new face fuzz I must have looked like a balding, fat Fu Manchu with a bladder complaint. Oh happy days.

As luck would have it, I was called in to be scanned way before the patch dried. I had to pass my old trousers to the still-giggling Incumbent and resorted to hiding my moist nether regions with the front tails of my shirt. I entered the scanning room.

The nurse greeted me and said the scan would be in three stages.
“And Once in Evening Dress ?” I offered, trying to be witty. And titter came there none.
“No. Head, neck and then blood flow” she informed me sternly.
“Oh, ok then”.

She then explained that I’d be in the scanner for well over an hour and it’s a really boring experience, when you “must MUST” keep your neck and head still throughout. She went on that also, as brilliant as this technology is, it’s really very noisy as the scan goes through its phases, so she popped a pair of headphones on me which act as both ear mufflers and through which they would talk to me and play music throughout the procedure- to give me something to take my mind off it.
“Is there any music you don’t want us to play ?” she asked.
“Rap or anything by Morrissey” I replied, quick as a flash (it’s a knee-jerk reaction).
A blank look came across her face. “I don’t think we’ve got anything like that anyway” she said. “What about anything you’d really like to hear?” she asked.

Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks or Old Shep by Elvis” I quipped. But by the stoney look I received, my joke had, again, fallen on deaf ears. “Classical will do” I told her. Christ, she was a tough crowd.

I climbed onto the machine bed, and lay back onto the head rest. She brought down a plastic grid over my face, and put wedges either side to prevent movement. I knew how Hannibal Lecter felt at that airport. As the bench slid half way into the machine, I lay head and shoulders inside, torso and legs al fresco. I half expected to hear John Mills or Hardy Kruger to shout “Fire One” and I’d shoot off out of the scanner, in the general direction of Orpington.

Nursey explained she needed to inject me with some chemical or other (thankfully my words not hers) in order to track my blood flow. As I lay there, wedged into in my cage I felt her pull a tourniquet around my bicep, then grab my hand in readiness for the injection.

It then dawned on me, as a chirpy Strauss waltz drifted across the airwaves, that if she was leaning down to spot a nice bulging vein in the back of my hand, her head would be a matter of inches away from my urine-soaked winkle.

“Now you might feel a little prick” she announced.

Did I ever.

Only 135 Starbucks Days til Christmas


Tis the season to be jolly, apparently. Pop down to Bluewater shopping centre and see how you feel afterwards. On the face of it, it seemed like a good idea. Since my aftershock a couple of weeks ago I’d not been out much, and not at all if you don’t count trips to the hospital or the GPs. I feel like I’m basically just one dizzy spell away from another stroke, so why encourage the old grey cells to knock buggery out of each other by me overdoing it, certainly when there’s Flog it and Countdown to watch on tv ? I have a week to wait until the promised all-revealing MRI scan and a week plonked on the couch won’t harm anyone, and may even do me some good.

But a chat I had with my father the other day changed my way of thinking. According to him, I’m likely to “pop my clogs” anyway, so I might as well enjoy myself while I can. It is, as they say, good to talk, and a chat with the old man really gives you that warm glow inside. The Season for Giving had clearly arrived, with the old fella at the front of the queue for giving out advice. So in that spirit, and being told by my dad that there was little hope of still being around when the fat bloke came down the chimney (nice trick if you can do it) I decided to go down to the shopping mall from hell, buy and give the incumbent her Christmas present early. Yes I know it’s still November, but she needed it and there’s no point her hunting around in the back of wardrobes for my gift when I’m pushing up the daisies.

There’s a knack to Bluewater. If, like me, you go there infrequently enough to be unfamiliar with it, you’ll find plenty of other like-minded individuals (mostly men) shuffling around like polar bears in Regents Park, unsure of where they are, who they are or why they are here. You can spend days down there. I’ve never been to Westworld, or whatever those malls in Shepherd’s Bush or Stratford are called, but if you have, you’ll understand what I mean. It’s enormous. Exiting Marks&Spencer alone requires the navigational skills of Ranulph Fiennes. Last week a Japanese soldier emerged from the kitchenware dept of John Lewis asking if the war was still on. There are approximately twelve branches of Starbucks, all looking identical, with identical Boys from Brazil serving (very slowly) therein. On every corner there is an extensive map showing each and every shop (sorry “outlet”) in the complex. I stopped at one and noticed a large red dot on one corner, with the words on it YOU ARE HERE written reassuringly. Except some  poor sod, presumably someone who’d been walking around lost since V.E. night had scratched out the word HERE and written FUCKED over the top. I couldn’t have agreed more.

I saw one bloke simply give up hope of ever leaving the place and start writing his will on the back of a brochure given to him by the “nail bar” (they serve neither nails nor four candles. I know, I asked) next to Past Times. If I ran Past Times the shelves would be full of photos from before shopping centres, of when your local street was full of shops other than bookies and charity shops. When you could walk down the high street experiencing the warm satisfied feeling of community, not the cold stroll of terror down a desperate, desolate, derelict street, gingerly bypassing the bored, threatening hoodies and the even boreder (yes, it could be a word) chuggers on every street corner.

Anyway…After what could have only been four hours, I eventually escaped ( I was parked in Brown Squirrel G, Level 3, NOT Blue Stoat F, Level 2, as I had at first thought) and lived to tell the tale, Christmas gift in hand.

Now I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t wrap it (neither nicely nor at all) that, having opened her brand spanking new, all bells-and-whistles, all woofers-and-tweeters steam iron that she didn’t rush over to me, throwing her arms around my neck and pledging her undying love for me. I’d even go so far as to say that her reaction was rather muted. Funny creatures, women. It’s made me think twice about even buying the new kitchen apron which, in my opinion, she so desperately needs. She’ll miss me when I’m gone. About as much as my dad will, I reckon.

The Battle Cruiser


I do love a pub.

And when I say that, I don’t mean a bar, or a cafe bar. Or a restaurant with a bar where you wait while your table is prepared. I mean a pub.

While we’re at it I also don’t mean a converted high street bank. A place which used to be a very good community bank, and is now a very shite community service pub. A place where you can buy “A chicken curry and a pint for £4.99 every Tuesday”. I don’t mean a place adorned with signs announcing “Girls get Purple drinks Half price every Monday, Wednesday and third Sunday”. I mean a pub.

Sometimes a pub's so nice it merits stopping drinking and taking a picture. This is me in the perfect Hoppe in Amsterdam. And not a hot meal in sight.

A pub should generally follow several broad guidelines. A pub should be a place where one goes to meet old friends and make new ones. And drink with them. To that end, the music out of any speakers therein should be soft enough to hear yourself think and talk, loud enough to induce an argument over the singer or the song’s identity. What decent night down the boozer worth remembering didn’t have a row in it ? And an argument over music is as good a place to start as any.

Any live singer or band playing in the pub should adhere to the above decibel guidelines. If such proves impossible, the act should always remember they are playing in a public house and therefore popular, anthem-type songs, mostly over ten years old is a must. I don’t want to sit examining my pint to the strains of the garbage you composed in your garage last night. Save that for the students. Landlords should reserve just one night per week for live music. There are only so many times I want to hear/sing Sweet Caroline down the local: Once at about ten o’clock and one encore. That’s plenty. Unless I’m drunk.

Food is an important thing to consider when running a pub, and I always think a good landlord should follow this rule of thumb: There should be no food in a pub. Packets of nibbles behind the jump are permitted. But, customers, if you want to eat a meal, then make yourself a sandwich before you go out, or go to a restaurant, eat a meal, then go to the pub. Or go down the pub, have a goodly drink, then stagger into a curry house/chinese takeaway after the landlord of the pub has refused you further refreshment.

One of the more annoying sensations is trying to enjoy the happy, hoppy whiff of a well-poured pint only to have your nasal enjoyment interrupted by the odour of fish, chips, gravy and the like. This is a pub, not an eatery. If you get peckish help yourself to peanuts, pork scratchings, pickled eggs or crisps which are available, at a very competitive rate behind the bar. You’ve already rid us of the smell of a smouldering ashtray in the corner (oh, sorry mate, is that your girlfriend ?), don’t start rubbing Ralgex into the groin by putting sachets of ketchup on the table or waving a plateful of sausage ‘n’ mash at me, when I’m only interested in a pint of Light ‘n’ Bitter.

Outdoors Bad

You would think that it would be a prerequisite of owning a pub that you serve beer (or gin, if you really must) in a glass receptacle, wouldn’t you ? No such luck any more, I’m afraid. How many times have you walked up to a bar, ordered a drink only to be greeted by the dreaded phrase “you drinking that inside or out, luv?”  Who hasn’t lied at this juncture, only to be caught out by the potman when he sees you craftily swigging from your glass while standing in the garden cos your girlfriend thought “it’d be nice to drink outside”? You reluctantly hand your drinking vessel back to the glass collector who then transfers its contents into a plastic beaker. Oh, the shame of it. A 2009 United Nations report found that one of the most (some say only) catastrophic results of global warming will be a huge increase of people being forced by women to drink outside and thus being forced to slurp from plastic “glasses”.

There’s nothing like finding a lovely cold, dark pub when the sun’s blazing outside. Or a nice, cozy, warm pub when it’s freezing outside. In short, there’s nothing like finding a nice pub. We don’t go in there to get drunk, you understand? No, we go in there for the craic. Occasional drunkeness is an unfortunate by-product of enjoying the craic, but not a compulsory nor inevitable outcome. His eminence William (Bill) Greaves (see Now Then… elswhere in these pages) has informed us how to behave in such places and situations, and it is clear from his teachings that we should endeavour to conduct ourselves in a dignified way befitting a serious (and let us not forget expensive) pastime such as drinking. Right up to the time we are plastered, that is.

Indoors Good

Is it therefore too much to ask that the landlord should present to us an establishment fit and befitting of this aforementioned due respect to our favourite pasttime? These meeting holes should be places of wonderment and worship. What they shouldn’t be is reminiscent of airport departure lounges with the addition of a John Smith’s pump. We neither want nor need plastic leprechauns on the walls, rows of vodka-shots lined up on the bar or 24/7 football on the enormous tv screens in each and every corner. Take a butchers at The Salisbury, St Martin’s Lane, London (or The Harp just around the corner in Chandos Place) and you’ll see what I mean. You don’t have to be in England to find wonderful watering holes. You may struggle to find a pint of mild, but there are always corners of a foreign field which are perfect spots to while away the hours. Try The Hoppe in Amsterdam which is as close to heaven as you could possibly be without throwing a seven. It has been a bar since 1670 and they’re still wondering how or if to redecorate it! There’s Robert’s Western World in Nashville where, if you can excuse the lack of a decent beer, you can sit and listen to fantastic music while manfully trying to avoid a bourbon overdose. You will fail. It’s sensational because of and in spite of that.

Nearer to home there’s The Fleece in Halifax, if you catch it on the right night. You could do worse than visit my own Shovel in Dartford. A wonderful example of a tiny, well-kept drinking den. Food?  Next door, mate. There’s Henchy’s in Cork, but we don’t have enough time to discuss Irish pubs. Just pick one, you’ll like it.

And why do I go on so ? Haven’t we heard all this before ? Well that’s as maybe. But I have a particular reason for sharing my thoughts with you. After a slight hiccup in the brain department last week, it seems that I’m hurtling towards my first dry Christmas since 1979. No Shovel for me this year. No hangover on Boxing Day, trying to remember what I drunk and when. No, I’m down for lashings of tea and biscuits, with the temptation of a chocolate liqueur ever-present. It may not be as bad as it sounds. You really don’t want a hangover with a malfunctioning brain like mine. And that’s before having a stroke. The spector of repeat performance last week scared the willies out of me so for my own good I’m off the stuff for the foreseeable future.

So you’ll have to have mine for me. Take it sensibly and behave yourself. Enjoy it and enjoy whichever boozer you chose to make your own. You never know, you may end up in The Rose and Crown, swinging on the barmaid’s…er…earrings. I doubt if you’ll find George there though :

Oh, and by the way: This is a pub. Want a coffee? Fuck off to Starbucks.

Up in Smoke


Since my little episode in the summer – when I hit the deck like the GB’s baton in the 400m relay – I’ve been like the Olympic Flame: never going out. Well, hardly ever. But “hardly ever going out” isn’t the end of one of my favourite jokes, so we’ll make do with never going out. Ok?

The route for the Olympic Torch has been announced this morning and, for better or worse, the good people or Dartford won’t be within either a javelin or a stone’s-throwing range of the runners and the flame. Good thing really cos The Incumbent has been practicing her aim with both. If a procession of tracksuit-clad locals and micro-celebrities were to jog past the Potting Shed, a violent salvo of objects, once destined for eBay, would be launched in their general direction. She may manage to cop someone of the stature of a Floella Benjamin or a Jim Davidson around the earhole with an old ornament, causing considerable damage.  But you can never be too sure of a direct hit, so it’s best the entourage stays well away from the neighbourhood.

Since we failed to secure even a single child’s ticket for the egg-and-spoon race, the London 2012 experience is not one to be enjoyed in our house. Coupled with my failure to get a job with the Olympic organization’s photo-team, mention of The Games is strictly verboten around here. (Although we are only assuming I didn’t get the job, me having not received a single word either way from the interviewers. Rude fvckers.)

Whenever there’s a news item about next year’s event, or Seb Coe’s beaming face appears on tv, the station is immediately switched off or over – even if it means watching another autopsy on Channel 4 (have they not got any other ideas?). The whole shambles/con (delete where applicable) over the ‘legacy’ and the football stadia, and the ‘affordable housing’ and the ticket prices has really left a nasty taste in the mouth, so we won’t be joining in the fun, if you don’t mind (I bet that’s come as a shock to you, hasn’t it?)

So no runners past the Potting Shed. No cheering-on of the torch by the farmhands. The locals at The Berchtesgaden Arms will not have the chance to wave the flag of St George in celebration of the flame’s progress. They’ll have to save their celebratory bender and Sieg Heil session until the Stephen Lawrence accused get off again.

Casting a cursory glance at the route I think I notice the joggers won’t be taking the torch around neither Tottenham nor Croydon. Probably for the best, I suppose. I think they’ve had enough of flames for a while. That bloke in the furniture shop has only just sat down after giving all those emotional news interviews. It’d be nice to give him a rest for a while.

While we’re on fire-related moans and groans: Can’t we now take this opportunity to ban fireworks altogether? It’s too early to know what really caused the horrors on the M5 at the weekend, but can we not make use of the suspicion by outlawing bonfires and fireworks once and for all? If we can prove they are harmful to the environment, I’d gladly reinforce my immaculate green-credentials in an effort to rid us all of the noise, the smoke and the smell.

It used to be that you’d only see and hear these bloody things on, or around November 5th.  In 1605 Guy (Guido) Fawkes and a bunch of his catholic mates tried to blow up Parliament. He got caught and the ‘gunpowder plot’ failed. We’ve been celebrating his capture/mourning his failure (delete where applicable) ever since. All well and good, I suppose. Most countries have a yearly festival or celebration day when the fireworks are rolled out. The French have Bastille Day, the day every year they give thanks for not being invaded by the Germans (again). Then there’s the 4th of July, commemorated by Brits the world over as the day we finally let the yanks out in the world on their own. A bit like sending an annoying spotty teenager off to college and getting the box room back. Years later he returns, now owning IBM and degree in shooting people, but the peace and quiet was nice while it lasted.

I digress.

But now we not only have to start dodging rockets and catherine wheels around 5th November, but we now have to listen to them over Christmas, New Year, Easter, Yom Kippur, Epiphany, Lent, Diwali, the  X-Factor results, Downton Abbey finales, in fact any and every single celebration that someone somewhere feels they need to enjoy. I’m all in favour of a multicultural, multi-faith country where all are welcomed and encouraged to live as diverse and existence as is possible. But why-oh-why-oh-daily-mail do all these festivities have to come with sodding fireworks ? Maurice, the rather nervous dog next door has shellshock – they now feed him on valium and St John’s Wort. There’s a pall of smoke hanging over the lower paddock, making it look like Kabul after the big beardy naughty boys have been about.

They banned smoking on the top deck of a bus and the left hand side of the cinema; they stopped us from riding a motorcycle without a helmet; had an amnesty on handguns; they even banned Tom&Jerry from my tv (presumably to make room for a series on human dissection on Channel 4). Surely there’s a decent case to be made against these rockets and missiles which kill, harm, mutilate and maim so many every year ? I have nothing against blowing up parliament, and happy to raise a glass to the Guido and his mates for having a pop at it. But is blowing up each other, distressing our pets and covering motorways with thick smoke really the way forward ? What if we restrict it to one huge re-enactment every year, underneath parliament, using live ammo. And hope for the best ?

Or the worst. (delete where applicable).